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Smeal Marketing Class Puts Theory to Work in Helping Webster's Cafe

by on February 17, 2013 8:17 AM

Undergraduate students in the Penn State Smeal College of Business put theory into practice last fall, developing integrated marketing plans for Webster’s Café and Bookstore located in downtown State College.

Assistant professor of marketing Karen Winterich incorporated a real-world client into the project for her Marketing 422: Advertising and Sales Promotion Management class to enhance the students’ experiences. “Not only is it more motivating and valuable for students, but it also provides an opportunity for our students to give back to local businesses by sharing their skills,” she said.

Early in the fall semester, Webster’s Café owner Elaine Meder-Wilgus visited the class to give students background information on her business and its needs. Over the course of the semester, students did more research on their own.

“We went to Webster’s a couple of times and got a feel for it,” said Smeal marketing student Jenn Mahon. “Then we picked a target market: what kind of students would this appeal to?”

The semester-long project culminated with student teams presenting their ideas to Meder-Wilgus, who said she was impressed with the students’ final results. The proposals incorporated design elements, promotional strategies and public relations plans, including a lot of focus on social media and making connections with student groups.

“The students really seemed to pick up on ideas revolving around community and creativity,” which, Meder-Wilgus said, are some of the themes that differentiate Webster’s from its competition.

According to Winterich, these kinds of real-world learning activities give students a chance to exercise their knowledge in a practical way. Working with a client willing to use the best ideas gave students extra motivation.

“In general, when students know their work is for an actual client and has the potential to be implemented, they are much more motivated to invest their energy into the project and submit their best work,” Winterich said.

“I didn’t really feel like I was in a class; I was actually working for a client,” Mahon said.

The partnership between Winterich’s Marketing 422 class and Meder-Wilgus was facilitated by Linda Feltman, senior business consultant at the Penn State Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Feltman felt that Webster’s Café, an ongoing client of the SBDC, could benefit from the students’ perspectives with regard to marketing.

“These ideas will help Elaine run more efficiently and become a stronger business,” Feltman said. “It ended up being a win-win for everybody.”

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